You “WFH?”

January 4, 2021

It took me a few seconds to work out what my friend was asking, in response to the news that I had, after four hard months of searching for a job, landed a new gig with an agency called Acorn Strategy. Those three letters are now a firm part of the employment lexicon and have come to define 2020 for huge swathes of workers who, through coercion or self-preservation are Working From Home. The chances are that, if you’re reading this, you spent at least a few weeks during the pandemic doing so yourself.

As a self-confessed hermit, for me, not having to go into an office every day has been one of the very few positives in a year that has taken a wrecking ball to convention. Not sitting in nose-to-tail traffic twice a day, not being dragged into office politics, not having to wear a shirt and tie five days a week – it’s quite liberating. I have to admit to being ahead of the curve here, however, as I spent a decade working from home in the UK as a freelance journalist, so it didn’t take much for me to readjust. I also have to admit that decade-long experience wasn’t ideal and was undeniably a contributing factor in my divorce before relocating to the UAE in 2011.

So with painful life lessons learned, would this new WFH stint be more successful? Certainly having a regular monthly salary landing in my bank account is a huge step in the right direction but the rest of the issues remain eerily familiar – recognising issues before they turn into problems is key to making this thing work.

Everyone’s situation is unique, of course. For us, having our son at home every day instead of school has been both a blessing and a challenge. Distance learning is far from straightforward when you’re trying to get a four-year-old to do his schooling via an iPad instead of a classroom, especially while trying to get oneself established in a new, full-time job. My wife working from home at the same time has been problematic at times, too, and the Abu Dhabi apartment we once thought as being extremely spacious suddenly resembled a stressful sardine tin. Adjustments to habits and expectations have been absolutely necessary, then, in order to avoid home becoming a place of discord.

I’ve never been one for rigid routine but when WFH it’s essential to have at least some sort of daily structure. For me that means not ‘signing on’ until 9am and trying to ‘sign off’ by 6pm. It means making sure to take a lunch break and taking time out to spend playing around with my son. It means ensuring my work is delivered when it’s due so that my evenings and weekends are clear.

Technology has been a lifesaver and I cannot imagine getting through a year like this a decade ago. I started working with Acorn on 2 June and immediately dived into Microsoft Teams – a platform I’d had zero previous experience with. It took a few weeks to bet used to, but I cannot sing its praises highly enough. It isn’t perfect but it’s intuitive enough for a dinosaur like me to use as a one-stop shop for all office-related work, from video and voice calls, to file sharing and archiving, diary management and work scheduling. It’s an incredible tool and I now cannot imagine working without it.

I manage to work as part of a well-organised and motivated team of professionals and keep the agency’s clients happy yet, weirdly, I am still yet to physically meet the majority of my colleagues. Thanks to hereditary health matters I am categorised as ‘high risk’ when it comes to Covid-19 and need to remain diligent without becoming paranoid or overtly anti-social, so my appreciation of the tech that allows me to provide materially for my family while staying as safe as possible is without question. I am extremely fortunate.

Seven months in, do I feel the need to go back to working in an office? Categorically, no. I do occasionally miss the banter with colleagues and, while the IT tools at our disposal are indispensable, written communication can at times be misconstrued resulting in confusion and sometimes even the taking of offence. It’s much easier to crack a joke verbally and visually.

This is a small price to pay for WFH. The positives far outweigh the negatives for me, but I fully understand why you or anyone else might feel the opposite. Perhaps if we had more children then I’d feel differently, too, but as things are, I’ve come to love sharing the same space as my son and we’re far closer than we’d otherwise be.

It has helped, too, working for an employer that’s understanding and accommodating – when the authorities permitted offices to reopen with Covid-secure measures in place, it was made very clear to me and my colleagues that Acorn’s office was available if we wanted or needed to make use of it. The choice has always been ours. Like I said, I am extremely fortunate. Yes, I am WFH. And long may it continue.